Amidst a lawsuit alleging prolonged and persistent patterns of abuse and harassment, a lawsuit by investors for failing to disclose those issues, an investigation by the SEC for the same, and more, Activision Blizzard has been unravelling these last few months. It seems, however, that the reports up until now haven’t revealed the full extent of the systemic issues plaguing the company from within, which, given the severity of problems there, sadly doesn’t come as a surprise. As a new report published by The Wall Street Journal claims, the problems, unsurprisingly, go all the way to the top, with Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick himself being involved in a number of shocking instances over the years.
The report in question alleges the company’s chief executive officer of not only being aware of the persistent patterns of sexual harassment, discrimination, and abuse against employees within the company, but also having protected abusers, and in some cases even withholding knowledge of the same from the company’s board. WSJ’s report claims the evidence – including internal company documents as well as interviews with former employees – suggest the same.
One instance concerned the alleged rape of an employee at Sledgehammer Games by a superior in 2016 and a case of sexual harassment in 2017, with Javier Panameno being accused as the perpetrator in both instances. WSJ’s report claims that Kotick, who was aware of both instances, did not disclose the matter to the board, and no action was taken against Panameno until the threat of legal action led to the matters being settled out of court.
Fellow Call of Duty studio Treyarch also had similar issues, where studio head Dan Bunting was accused and sexual harassment in 2017. Activision Blizzard’s HR department investigated the matter, upon which it recommended that Bunting be fired. Kotick allegedly stepped in and blocked Bunting’s firing, instead opting to penalize him. Bunting stepped down from his position and left the company two months ago, which is when WSJ began investigating the matter.
The report also goes on to describe incidents over the years where Kotick himself has mistreated women and employees. One incident in 2006 saw Kotick harassing one of his assistants, and even leaving her a voicemail in which he threatened to have her killed. An Activision spokesperson said about the incident: “Mr. Kotick quickly apologized 16 years ago for the obviously hyperbolic and inappropriate voice mail, and he deeply regrets the exaggeration and tone in his voice mail to this day.”
Meanwhile, in 2007, Kotick threatened to “destroy” a woman who was suing him, alleging sexual harassment against the pilot of a private jet co-owned by Kotick.
Additionally, the report also brings up an email that was sent out under Activision Blizzard Chief Compliance Officer Fran Townsend shortly after California sued the company in July. The email, widely criticized as being dismissive, was blasted by thousands of company employees as “abhorrent and insulting”, while Kotick himself later apologized for it as well, calling it “tone deaf”. As it turns out, WSJ’s report claims that it was Kotick himself who drafted the email and had it sent out under Townsend’s name, due to the optics of a senior female company employee defending its internal conduct and practices. An Activision spokesperson has said about the issue that Kotick “takes responsibility for the incident and regrets it”, and that Townsend “should not be blamed for this mistake.”
In a statement released following the publishing of WSJ’s report, Activision’s Board of Directors defended Kotick, saying: “The Activision Blizzard Board remains committed to the goal of making Activision Blizzard the most welcoming and inclusive company in the industry. Under Bobby Kotick’s leadership the Company is already implementing industry leading changes including a zero tolerance harassment policy, a dedication to achieving significant increases to the percentages of women and non-binary people in our workforce and significant internal and external investments to accelerate opportunities for diverse talent. The Board remains confident that Bobby Kotick appropriately addressed workplace issues brought to his attention.
“The goals we have set for ourselves are both critical and ambitious. The Board remains confident in Bobby Kotick’s leadership, commitment and ability to achieve these goals.”
In August, Bobby Kotick said that anyone at Activision Blizzard found to be guilty of misconduct or involved in blocking investigations into and action against those who are alleged of the same would be “held accountable for their actions”, which has resulted in over 20 people being fired from the company since then, including Blizzard president J. Allen Brack. One has to wonder what Kotick’s stance on the situation will be now that his own actions have come to light as well.